the hearts of registrars such as McCullough-Testa. "Accessibility is a big issue here. Where we are located, the parking is bad." With imaging, Washington County can provide both fax service and round-the-clock access for those who don't have time to come to the Recorder's Office during business hours.

Imaging technology has also opened up other doors to customer service. "We're looking at offering search services at libraries and from kiosks in the mall," said McCullough-Testa, who also wants to provide credit card service and, eventually, document access via the Internet. "We have to provide what the consumers want," she explained. "We're just trying to prepare for that."


Using the Internet to access document images of deeds would certainly put land registries at the forefront of today's technology revolution. But before they get there, registries have to learn to walk before they run.

Just paying for an imaging system can be sobering, even in these days of low-cost hardware and software. Most land registries have to convert backfiles of land documents before their systems show any real benefit. This task can be outsourced, but at 10 cents per page on average, backfile conversion can significantly boost the cost of imaging.

For many registries, document imaging represents their first foray into information technology and its Byzantine world of glitches, bugs and error messages. Some registries will require a lot of technical support to manage everything from local area networks to UNIX programs.

And then there

are the new duties the staff have to perform. Imaging needs humans to prepare and scan the paper documents and then check the images to ensure their quality before they are permanently stored on optical discs. Along with indexing the documents in the computer's database, these tasks did not exist prior to imaging.

But if a registry can weather these changes with good planning and management, then benefits -- ranging from higher staff productivity and improved customer accessibility to lower operating costs -- will begin to kick in over time. Whether the new process stays around as long as the leather-bound books is another matter.



PROBLEM/SITUATION: Registries and recorders of deeds are classic examples of government processes driven by paper. They are slow and inefficient.

SOLUTION: Document imaging has proven successful at speeding public access to land records while cutting processing costs.

JURISDICTION: Washington County, Pa.

VENDORS: Wang, Unisys, TriMin Systems.

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